Another day, another slew of questions about the Korean approach to skincare. Last time she wrote us, Alicia Yoon (Peach & Lily's co-founder) took on the big themes: What's new? What's next? What is a pack and what do you do with it? Today she's back with a specific angle, as requested by you, the readers. The Korean skincare ethos revolves around constant hydration. So what's an acne-prone person to do? Alicia elaborates:
In my Top Shelf, I shared a lot about my Korean skincare routine—and a lot about my dry skin. I have eczema, so many of my personal products are great for those who find it difficult to keep skin hydrated. But that's just my experience—interestingly, Peach & Lily receives the highest amount of consultation requests from those with oily/acne-prone skin. So I want to share the top 10 Korean tips to care for oily or acne-prone skin based on my experience with customers and one of our most recent surveys in Korea. Plus product recommendations, because that's the fun part.
Stay hydrated. Don’t let dehydrated skin lead to excess sebum production. Invest in a good lightweight serum with a great humectant, like hyaluronic acid (holds 1000x times its weight in water), to keep skin hydrated and balanced. Also, harshly formulated cleansers can leave skin stripped dry or weaken the skin barrier—a thoughtful formulation like the Dr. Jart Dermaclear Micro Water is intended to be gentle on the skin barrier to prevent dehydration.
Keep your skin pH well-balanced. A pH of about 5.5 helps keep the skin barrier healthy and strong, keeping bacteria out and moisture in. Toner is the best thing to keep an unbalanced pH in check. Now, take a toner that also curbs sebum production without stripping skin dry, and you're golden. Be the Skin Pore Toner (and the Botanical Pore Serum) is a holy grail product for overactive oil glands. The proprietary blend of botanicals and herbs indigenous to Asia will leave you matte with a slight dewy glow.
Exfoliate regularly. Koreans tend to opt for more frequent and gentler exfoliation than what I've seen in the States. The thought is that consistently exfoliating 2-3 times a week versus aggressive exfoliation once every few weeks can be far more effective and keep skin healthier. For those with oily skin, BHAs are the ingredient to look for because they can penetrate more easily through oil. One of my favorites is the popular CosRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid. It’s powerful without being harsh, and it hydrates with hyaluronic acid. After the first couple of uses, you might experience one of those “it gets worse before it gets better” episodes. BHA has a tendency to encourage newly forming acne to surface more quickly, yet also to heal more quickly.
Use oils. Using an oil-based cleanser to remove oil-based impurities is crucial for all skin types, but especially helpful for oily skin. And using face oils can actually be good for the skin barrier as the oils you put on the skin and the oils released through the skin aren’t one and the same. For oily skin types, jojoba oil, aloe vera essential oil and tea tree oil are some of my favorite picks.
Water-based creams. Korean women with oily skin seem to love water-based lightweight creams. One hundred percent of oily-skin type Korean women polled said that they opt for products like Laneige's Water Bank Moisture Cream because the heavy oil-based creams invariably cause too much shine after a good night’s rest.
Sheet mask regularly. The intensive hydration and nourishment that sheet masks can provide both help hydrate skin (see tip #1) and, depending on the active ingredient, can help with sebum production, refining texture (those with oily skin tend to complain more about leathery, thicker-looking skin), and firming up pores. My all-time favorite sheet mask is great for all skin types, and soothing for those with breakouts or irritated skin.
Treat pores with extreme care. Since oil traps impurities in pores like sticky glue, using oil-based cleansers and products formulated to gently draw out impurities from deep within the pores are a must-use. The brand Caolion has a series of pore packs that have taken Korea by storm. The Steam Pack heats up upon application to clear out pores and is a good fit for oily skin (The O2 Pack has similar results, but is better suited for dry skin). The third one—the Pore Minimizing Pack—has more of a menthol-y feel and works for dry and oily skin. That said, all three are on the gentle side. But nevertheless effective!
Stay cool. There’s a somewhat commonly shared tidbit in Korea that your skin produces roughly 10 percent more sebum when your skin/body temperature goes up by around one degree. I haven't seen the data to support quite that bold of a statement, but it does shed some light on why so many Korean products are dedicated to cooling down the skin—and why some people love to keep their sheet masks in the fridge. After a long hot day or a hot workout, open your fridge and get out some cold water to drink and a cold mist to spritz. Regardless of whether or not cooling the skin lessens oil production, the coolness will help soothe.
Mind your ingredients. Three things to look out for specifically to help with oily skin:
Snail goo. Snail secretion filtrate is extremely lightweight in texture and allows for deep hydration without any heaviness or greasiness. It's also known to have antimicrobial properties to minimize breakouts and regenerative properties, which help with acne scarring. Mizon All-In-One Snail Repair Cream is so well-loved that it dominated the market share in beauty sales on one of Korea's largest e-tailers—so much so that counterfeit versions started to pop up (shoppers beware).
Green tea. A lot of people simply mask with tea—but incorporating it in your daily routine can help decrease sebum production, reduce inflammation, and can even prevent inflammatory responses like acne from coming back. And of course, green tea is packed with antioxidants that help fight damaging free radicals. Innisfree’s Green Tea line is a cult-favorite in Korea—it's natural, hydrating, and gentle.
3) Vitamin C. If you suffer from acne scarring and need help fading hyperpigmentation, vitamin C is great for that. Ciracle Vitamin C-20 Serum has a concentration of 20 percent vitamin C, one of the highest you'll find in a skincare product (many studies show that a concentration of 1-20 percent is effective). At such a high concentration, though, you should patch-test first to make sure your skin can handle it. If so, you may have just found your perfect dark spot remover. Vitamin C is also known to boost collagen production, which will help even out rough skin texture that often accompanies breakout-prone skin.
Emergency remedies. Hydrocolloid patches! The CosRX version is arguably one of the cheapest, yet most satisfying acne spot treatments around. Just slap one on when you feel the beginnings of an angry, painful, under-the-skin bump and it pulls it right up to the surface while taming the wild inflammation that comes with cystic acne. But if you’ve gone ahead and picked/prodded/popped that zit, these patches are incredibly forgiving—they protect the area and speed up the healing process by gently drawing out fluid, contributing to a noticeable decrease in swelling and redness. There's nothing easier.
Photographed by Tom Newton.